Another early morning . . . We got up well before dawn today and were on the road while it was still dark. This was all necessary because we were headed for the dawn flag-raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square. We were excited to go, but thought it an unfortunate coincidence that everything was so dark before the sunrise.
The flag-raising ceremony is precisely calibrated to the sunrise so that the flag reaches the top of the pole as the sun crests (although the sun was not visible today). Thus, the waiting was dark and bitterly cold. There was a crowd there already, a few people deep across the whole square, and we pushed up close to them for warmth. With Mom’s arms around me, I could just barely stand it.
As we waited for the ceremony to start, I watched the face of the young guard standing in front of us. Guards are everywhere in China – from the 保安 on the first floor of my dorm, to traffic cops, to the guys who check IDs at West Gate – but I tend to think of them as kind of a joke. With the exception of the heavily armed men who move money between banks, none of them seem very threatening and they usually don’t seem to take their jobs seriously, so I just don’t pay them any attention. This guy was different though. I don’t know if he was armed under his coat, but he was using his eyes like weapons. He was constantly scanning the crowd for potential trouble, and he looked so nervous that he was making me nervous.
Guards like him were everywhere, especially before and during the ceremony. Even after the concentrated crowds disappeared though, I felt like we were being watched. Outside of the sight of the guards, every lightpost sports a stack of surveillance cameras.
Anyway, about the ceremony: The sunrise today was 7:22. (While it seemed early, I’m trying to be grateful that we weren’t here in June for the 4:45 a.m. sunrise!) A few minutes beforehand, a huge block of soldiers marched out from the Tiananmen Gate under Mao’s portrait and crossed the street (where traffic was temporarily stopped) towards us. Then, at precisely the right moment, they unrolled the flag (which was rolled, not folded) and it started up the flag pole. One soldier grabbed the end of the flag and flung his arm out as they always do, sending the flag billowing majestically as it began its ascent to the tune of “The March of the Volunteers”, China’s national anthem.
It was a pretty impressive ceremony, and even worth the miserable time and weather to watch once.
Once the ceremony was finished, they let us get closer to the flag pole and everybody took pictures – including us.
I wanted to join the mob of people lining up to visit Mao’s mausoleum, but my parents weren’t up for the wait in the cold so we headed for the subway instead. We went as far northwest as we could on the metro and then took a taxi to the Summer Palace, which is one of those things that you just have to see when you’re in Beijing.
But . . . it’s not called the Summer Palace for nothing. The emperors went there to escape the summer heat of Beijing, not to find warmth in the depths of the winter. Instead of centering around lively water activities on Kunming Lake and featuring outdoor snacks and vendors, it’s pretty much a frozen wasteland this time of year.
There were some pretty parts, but we saw them quickly as we had to keep up a brisk pace to avoid hypothermia.
Finished with our whirlwind tour of the Summer Palace, we went back to the subway and headed for 中关村, China’s Silicon Valley. I had heard about people making trips out to Google China’s headquarters to leave flowers or messages and wanted to see and participate in this. We found the building thanks to Mom’s sharp eyes, but found no signs of a memorial. Apparently the government was not happy about this public expression of solidarity with the company’s stance, so they removed the flowers, calling them a 非法鲜花, or “illegal flower tribute” (a term that is apparently now blocked in Chinese search engines – oh, the irony). We hadn’t seen a flower vendor nearby, so I settled for leaving a little note for the guys at Google: “Dear Google – We will miss you if you leave China, but right and wrong aren’t a matter of personal comfort or financial gain. Do what’s right!”
In answer to my father’s questions, I’m not 100% sure what “right” is in this case. This quote sums up my thoughts, both on this issue and my personal involvement in China:
Google’s choice echoes the dilemma that many companies, non-governmental organizations, countries, and individuals face when dealing with China. At what point does being complicit in an illiberal and undemocratic regime outweigh the value of engaging, and thereby influencing, the Chinese public and government?
We had lunch across the street at an Indian restaurant. We weren’t super clear on the portions, so we ended up with two small bowls of curry and 6 baskets of bread. The proportion suited us just fine, though, and we all enjoyed lunch. There were two Americans at the table next to us, so most of the time I found myself being quiet and listening to them. They spoke pretty loudly, without any concern about people overhearing them, which made me wonder if it’s an American thing or a habit of life in China. They spoke so fast, the way only native speakers do with other native speakers, and used way more slang than I’m used to hearing (or using) recently. They used “awkward” a lot and the girl said “I know, right?” several times, which made it easy for me to remember conversations with my friends back in America. Between that and a phone call back to Tulsa, Oklahoma last night (in which I had to ask the woman to repeat herself because I didn’t recognized “apreeeeeved” as the word “approved”), I’ve heard a lot of American English recently, and it feels a little strange.
After lunch we took a side trip to return a credit card that we found on the sidewalk to the local China Merchants Bank. It was important to me because 1) it’s the right thing to do, 2) it’s what I would want/have wanted others to do with my lost things, and 3) I’m hoping for some good karma to come my way. In the last two months I’ve lost a cell phone, camera, and leather glove and am now waiting for one/all to fortuitously return to me. Any time!
We were all nodding off during the subway ride home, so we all agreed to a late afternoon nap. After at least four very early mornings in a row and fairly late nights (at least for me) filled with lots of walking in between, we were all exhausted. I must say, that nap was one of my favorite things that we’ve done in Beijing!
We barely even went out for dinner; Dad and I just went next door to get takeout. While we waited for our food, we perused the English menu, which is almost always good for a laugh. Some of the pictures were a little much for Dad (like the row of duck tongues or the turtle who looked like the bowl of soup was an shallow pond) but the descriptions were sometimes even worse. For your entertainment, here is a selection of the best food names:
- The noodles drag along small yellow fish
- The North Pole shell stabs a body
- Shanghai inebriates the chicken
- Sprinkle fatty cow of juice
- Bad and fragrant feng claw
- The fatty intestine of hang jiao
- Oil explodes river shrimp
- The stone database door vegetable three fresh
- The hair blood is prosperous
It makes my mouth water just thinking about it!
Our trip is coming to an end quickly; my parents head home the day after tomorrow and I leave the next day. To lift my spirits, I looked at the weather forecast back home and saw that I can expect temperatures in the 20s (60s in F) when I get to Xiamen! Unfortunately, I also looked into the details of the train I’m taking back home, the K307, and found out that it will take me almost 32 hours to get home. Sitting the whole way. With a few thousand of my closest friends.
Ummmmmmmmmmmmm . . . ‘kay.